Holocaust Memorial Museum Designs Okayed by Capital Planning Unit

Designs for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum were approved Thursday by the National Capital Planning Commission, clearing the last major hurdle towards its construction.

The 8-2 vote came amidst concern about the effect of the museum on parking and pedestrian traffic and the impact of its nighttime skylighting. The museum must still submit an analysis of these problems before obtaining final approval from the commission.

“We have to come up with a viable operation plan for movement of people, if we don’t we’ll be in deep trouble. We can approve and disapprove plans to no avail if people can’t get through to them,” said commission member W. Don MacGillivray who voted to reject the museum’s designs.

Controversy over the meaning of Holocaust Museum, which was approved by Congress in 1979, remains. For months, Holocaust survivors have publicly objected to the museum as entirely inappropriate for representing such an enormous tragedy.

Werner Hasenberg told the commission that the placing of names of donors on the walls of the museum belittles the experience of those who perished anonymously in the Holocaust. The museum, which will cost an estimated $40 to $50 million, is being financed completely by private funds.

Commission member Robert Nash, who voted to reject the designs, said he was “deeply touched” by Hasenberg’s statement. “I am concerned about what is about to happen here. The statement about relevancy is important. I don’t think I can completely ignore that,” he said.

But Commission chairman Glen Urquhart noted that the museum had already been mandated by Congress which “can direct as it will what it wants done with its real estate. I think we act today within the perimeters of that decision.”

Designs for the Holocaust Memorial Museum were approved last month by the Federal Commission of Fine Arts. The Commission had initially rejected the museum’s hexagonal-shaped memorial, the Hall of Remembrance, for protruding too far into the street. Architect James Freed of I.M. Pei trimmed the hall’s size and the design was unanimously accepted.

Construction of the museum is expected to begin later this year and the museum could open in three years.

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